The Mayo member and the maid

John Deasy was on one of his regular trips to London. While carrying out his duties as the member of parliament for the constituency of Mayo West, Deasy was a frequent lodger at Mrs Postlethwaite’s boarding house at 75 Warwick Street, Pimlico, where he occupied a back room on the top floor. After a busy weekend, the tired 37-year-old MP returned to his room on the evening of Sunday, 4 June, 1893. One candle burned on the table by his bed, emitting limited light. It being a late hour, Deasy rang the service bell in order to request his supper. He walked on to the landing to meet his familiar servant girl, Ellen Lewis. Lewis was a girl of 16 years of age and by his own account, Deasy had always considered her a virtuous and modest girl. But, whether through boredom or through more corrupt thoughts, Lewis’ angelical qualities had not prevented the married Deasy from flirting with the young maid during previous stays.

Lewis entered Deasy’s room to light a second candle she had brought upstairs with her. With her back to the politician the whole time, she timidly batted away his personal line of conversation – “I suppose you have been out today with your young man.” With the candle fixed in place, Lewis turned to exit the room and fell over Deasy’s leg and onto his bed on which he was already sitting. Deasy immediately excused himself and grabbing both her wrists to help her up, he asked, “won’t you give me a kiss?” At this point of extreme embarrassment, Mrs. Postlethwaite entered and seeing a possible inappropriate situation, she ordered Lewis out of the room. The landlady was immediately assured by Deasy that all was not as it appeared but she demanded he vacate the room by the week’s end. Before leaving the boarding house, Deasy left a small, undisclosed gift for Lewis, as was his custom on check out.

Over a fortnight passed and Deasy had not heard nor thought much more about that Sunday evening. It was an unfortunate misunderstanding, but was in the past now. Not so, while walking down Fleet Street, London’s newspaper nerve centre, Deasy read on the newspaper placards, ‘The Member and the Maid’. Believing it to be a reference to some parliamentary colleague at which he and his associates would wring much amusement, Deasy bought the paper but under the heading he found his own name. After informing her sister of the happenings that Sunday night, Ellen Lewis was encouraged to take a case against Deasy for indecent assault. The newspaper headline was the first the MP had known of the legal action. Deasy contacted his solicitor the following day and attended Westminster as usual. The hearing of the charge against the Mayo West MP proceeded in late June following an initial adjournment.

Deasy admitted under examination to requesting a kiss from the girl and admitted that had she answered in the positive, he would have kissed her but he was adamant that he did not assault her. The judge ordered that the case go before a jury, and so it did in July. To aid his defence, Deasy brought out several political heavyweights to speak on behalf of his good character. Sir Thomas Esmonde MP, great-grandson of Irish statesman Henry Grattan, Justin McCarthy MP, founder of the anti-Parnellite Irish National Federation, and Sir George Penrose gave evidence in Deasy’s favour. Against the defendant stacked only the evidence of young Ellen Lewis. The judge believed the case was one of the most intricate to come before a court. The jury were instructed to find that one side must have told falsehoods. After a four hour hearing followed by 36 minutes of deliberating, the jury found the prisoner not guilty of indecent assault but guilty of common assault. Deasy, originally from Cork, was fined £25 and costs. Within a short number of days of the trial, John Deasy resigned his Mayo West seat which he had held as an Irish Parliamentary Party member since 1885 and as an Irish National Federation member since 1891. The resultant by-election was won by Robert Ambrose, also of the Irish National Federation. John Deasy died of tuberculosis in February 1896, aged only 39.

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